How Parenting Styles Intimidating for Grandparents

Grammy and Grampy, Abuelita and Abuelo, Lola and Boppo — they go by different names, but one thing’s the same: They love their grandchildren deeply. Maybe your child’s grandparents know the timeout drill, or maybe they see her twice a year on holidays. The different styles of grandparenting were studied and named by University of Chicago researchers Bernice Neugarten and Karol Weinstein in 1964, and are still widely accepted as an accurate reflection of grandparent-child relationships today.


“Look what Nanny brought you!” Formal grandparents may shower your child with candy or toys, but they carefully separate themselves from a parenting-type role. They’re not likely to offer advice when your little angel is throwing a monster-style fit over not wanting to take her bath.


Who is that giant child wearing the fireman hat, crawling around on the rug with your son, who’s giggling hysterically? Oh, wait, it’s Grampa! Fun-seeking grandparents play often with their grandkids, and consider spending time with them a leisure activity. They appreciate the opportunity to let loose and be silly, because there aren’t many other realms in their lives where this is considered appropriate. Hugging and cuddling also give these types of grandparents a chance to experience touch and affection, which are restricted in our culture past a certain age.


“Grandma lives a million, zillion miles from here,” your child might say, studying a map. Distant grandparents live far away from their grandchildren, but might send cards on birthdays or come to visit once or twice a year. If both parties are able to swing it, Skype is a fabulous way for kids to have more regular contact with a grandparent across the miles.

Surrogate Parent

Changing diapers, wiping noses, packing lunches: These super-grandparents do it all, and most of them out of sheer necessity. Due to often very sad circumstances — death, divorce, employment issues, child or substance abuse or parental incarceration — these grandparents take on the role of the primary caregiver. The American Counseling Association estimates that more than 1.3 million children are being raised solely by their grandparents. When parents can’t be there, it’s comforting to know that some amazing grandparents step in and perform the tough job of caring for little ones.

Reservoir of Family Wisdom

“Tell me that story about how you walked 12 miles in a blizzard, Grampy.” It may be the thousandth time you’ve heard it, but your child may be just beginning to absorb the details of his origins. Grandparents who embody the role of the reservoir of family wisdom are the gatekeepers of important family stories, and know important details about where your child’s ancestors came from. They may have specific values about work, family, love or money that they want to impress on their grandkids through time. Researcher Helen Kivnick notes this is also what she calls “immortality through clan” — the idea that a grandparent has a sense of living forever through his grandchildren, whom one day he will leave behind.

What All Grandchildren Need

Whether they’re making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day or calling every once in a while, every grandparent plays a different role. They vary in age, culture, religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, all of which affect their grandparenting style. Regardless of what that style is, though, counselors at the University of Colorado C.E. Barber and K.R. Tremblay, Jr., agree that all kids thrive with grandparents who spend one-on-one time with them, listen to them, make them feel special, share their history and family traditions, accept them for who they are and, most importantly, love them.

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